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China Space News Update - Issue #3

Andrew Jones
Andrew Jones
Tianwen-1 enters Mars orbit – Long March 5B arrives at Wenchang for space station mission – China, Russia to sign lunar MoU – roundup for weeks 6 and 7

Spring Festival usually brings a period of quiet, but this year we still saw major interplanetary, human spaceflight and international developments. Thanks for reading and feedback is very much welcome.
Tianwen-1 enters Mars orbit
A solar array engineering camera view of Tianwen-1's Mars orbit insertion (CNSA/CLEP).
A solar array engineering camera view of Tianwen-1's Mars orbit insertion (CNSA/CLEP).
China’s first interplanetary mission, Tianwen-1, successfully entered Mars orbit Feb. 10 following a 202-day journey through deep space.
Engineering cameras returned amazing footage of the spacecraft during its insertion burn that was bettered only by the out-of-this-world Perseverance landing just over a week later. Visible in the footage are surface features and the atmospheric limb.
Since then Tianwen-1 has altered its inclination and lowered its periapsis and apoapsis with two burns. No official update has followed the second burn, leading to some concern among Chinese space fans that there is an issue with the spacecraft or its orbit.
Amateur radio operator Daniel Estevez has followed closely and a new blog post looks at the current Tianwen-1 orbit and how it may be related to imaging the primary landing site for the mission rover, known to be within Utopia Planitia. We could see a new burn late Feb. 23 and imaging of the landing site. We are yet to see images from the main high-resolution and medium, wide angle cameras.
China preparing for space station launch
Long March 5B components being unloaded at Wenchang in February 2021 (CALT).
Long March 5B components being unloaded at Wenchang in February 2021 (CALT).
China is assembling the Long March 5B heavy-lift rocket to launch China’s first space station module, Tianhe, with launch from Wenchang expected in April.
The launch of the first 22-tonne module for China’s space station has been delayed a few years by issues with the Long March 5 rocket, but China is now making final preparations for a low-Earth orbit station envisioned as part of a human spaceflight programme initiated in 1992.
The Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft and Shenzhou-12 crewed mission are also being readied, with the astronauts for the latter already selected and undergoing intense training.
Russia, China to sign MoU on lunar research station
Russia, China to sign agreement on international lunar research station - SpaceNews
China gets a partner for its vision of an “International Lunar Research Station” (ILRS) after Russia pulls out of the Lunar Gateway and eschews the Artemis Accords. Roscosmos confirm the agreement will be signed with China at a major event, notably with St. Petersburg to host the Global Space Exploration Conference (GLEX) in June.
News roundup, articles
Carmaker Geely gets green light for Taizhou satellite manufacturing factory to support plans for a LEO constellation of GNSS-enhancement satellites for automated driving. The development promises to create demand for those commercial launch companies able to prove a reliable route to orbit (Feb 18).
– launch of a first pair of Geely sats was expected in autumn 2020, but it’s likely these were delayed by the Kuaizhou launch failures. These could tough be going up soon.
The European Space Policy Institute has released its New Space in Asia, with chapters on “Commercial space ecosystem and trends in China” by Blaine Curcio, Jean Deville and Chen Lan, and “Public policies to support commercial space in China” by Zhuolan Yu. These provide very useful overview and insight into China’s nascent commercial space sector and the challenges characterising and tracking involved entities.
And on the topic of these issues, the Secure World Foundation and Caelus Foundation have released: Lost Without Translation: Identifying Gaps in U.S. Perceptions of the Chinese Commercial Space Sector. The whitepaper “explores current perspectives that U.S. commercial space stakeholders have on the emerging Chinese commercial space sector and identifies significant questions and gaps in information that these stakeholders have.” A release event follows Feb. 23.
A Chinese State Council Budget Tracker gives some insight into funding of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) which oversees CNSA and SASTIND, a subordinate entity which oversees military-civil fusion efforts across the PRC government and private sector.
While Tianwen-1 is getting acquainted with Mars, there have been a few mission developments elsewhere.
Xi Jinping met (Xinhua) Chang'e-5 mission representatives at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing before calling for the pressing ahead with lunar and planetary exploration, something which hasn’t always had full support from all relevant organs.
Also released were some first images of Chang'e-5 samples:
Image of Chang'e-5 samples on the CCTV news show Xinwen Lianbo (CCTV/framegrab)
Image of Chang'e-5 samples on the CCTV news show Xinwen Lianbo (CCTV/framegrab)
The Chang'e-5 orbiter is meanwhile en route to Sun-Earth Lagrange point 1, expecting to arrive in mid-March.
Chang'e-4 relay satellite Queuqiao has been operating in space for 1,000 days (China Youth Daily)
The Chang'e-4 spacecraft meanwhile began lunar day 27 on Feb. 6 and powered down on Feb. 19. Yutu-2 added 24.15 metres of driving, with a total of 652.62 metres since deployment Jan. 3, 2019.
In space science, the HXMT-Insight x-ray observatory mission has discovered a first X-ray burst associated with a fast radio burst (Nature Astronomy). Also: Insight-HXMT observations of jet-like corona in a black hole X-ray binary (Nature Communications).
Feb. 23: Report Release: Lost Without Translation: Identifying Gaps in U.S. Perceptions of the Chinese Commercial Space Sector
~02:20 UTC, Feb. 24: Yaogan 31 (03) reconnaissance satellite group to launch on a Long Marc 4C from Jiuquan.
Launches are also expected/likely from Xichang (Long March 11, Long March 3B), Wenchang (Jielong-1) and possibly Taiyuan (Long March 6) in February, though timing typically remains shrouded.
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Andrew Jones
Andrew Jones @AJ_FI

A weekly roundup of developments in the nebulous but energetic Chinese space sector. Created by freelance space reporter and correspondent Andrew Jones.

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